How To Reach C&ENACS Membership Number


December 9, 2002
Volume 80, Number 49
CENEAR 80 49 pp. 25-28, 38
ISSN 0009-2347

Science & Technology Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security is charged with developing technologies to thwart terrorism

With a stroke of the pen, President George W. Bush late last month created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), setting in motion the most ambitious reshuffling of the federal government since the Defense Department was created in 1947. He also nominated Tom Ridge, presidential adviser on homeland security, to be secretary of the new department.

CHALLENGED President Bush named Tom Ridge to head the new domestic security department.
White House photo by Paul Morse
Ridge is expected to sail through confirmation by the Senate in January.

To carry out its mandate, this massive new Cabinet-level agency will have to marshal the skills of scientists and engineers to develop the technologies needed to prevent, protect against, and respond to future acts of terrorism. But, some commentators point out, the law creating the department also sets up rules that restrict the flow of information to scientists and to the general public and may actually retard progress in securing the homeland.

Merging disparate agencies--22 with more than 170,000 employees--into a cohesive, functioning entity will be a herculean undertaking, similar to ones that often stymie the skills of CEOs in the corporate world. Ridge--who served seven terms in Congress and as governor of Pennsylvania before becoming the President's homeland security adviser a little more than a year ago--has scant experience in melding and managing agencies with different histories and traditions and, in some cases, long-standing rivalries. Well aware of the potential culture clashes, he has been meeting with employee unions and with corporate officials who have gone through mergers.

Still, the absorption of agencies whose primary functions have little to do with homeland security will further complicate the consolidation. For example, less than 10% of the activities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are related to counterterrorism, as are less than a quarter of the Coast Guard's activities.

Several Republican senators--including John McCain (Ariz.) and outgoing Fred Thompson (Tenn.)--strongly supported the creation of DHS but warn that the consolidation is going to be more difficult and take longer than some Administration officials anticipate.

Indeed, David M. Walker, comptroller general of the General Accounting Office (GAO), believes "it will take years to fully implement and integrate the various entities in an efficient and effective manner."

President Bush contends that DHS will be more efficient and cost-effective than having counterterrorism agencies scattered throughout the government. "Our objective is to spend less on administrators and offices and more on working agents in the field; less on overhead and more on protecting our neighborhoods and borders and waters and skies from terrorists," he has said.

These efficiencies won't be realized in the short term, Walker cautions. Initially, he says, "it will cost more money and take incremental efforts to make DHS a reality." However, he continues, "over time, it should help improve the economics, efficiency, and effectiveness" of the nation's effort to counter terrorism. But, he warns, if initial organizational efforts are poorly handled and if the agencies being merged resist cooperation, counterterrorism efforts could be severely set back.

There are things that must be done quickly "to manage the risks associated with this major merger," Walker says. He names three that can help "to ensure the success of the department and to make a difference as quickly as possible."

First, the leadership of the department must reach out to the 170,000 civil servants "to look for ways to bring them together" in terms of "communications, mission, and core values," Walker explains. Next, DHS "needs to engage in meaningful partnerships with state and local governments and with the private sector," a position with which the American Chemistry Council agrees. And finally, he says, the department needs to focus "on areas of greatest risks."

Obviously, the department's infrastructure has to exist before Walker's steps can be taken. And President Bush is acting swiftly to ensure that the department's scaffolding is in place early in the first quarter of next year.

The law creating the department requires the President to send Congress a reorganization plan, which Bush did on Nov. 25, the day he signed the legislation.

In addition to naming Ridge secretary, Bush also has nominated Navy Secretary Gordon R. England to be deputy DHS secretary and Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, to head the directorate that oversees border and transportation security.

The President was able to act so swiftly because a White House team had spent five months planning for the transition.

If organizational efforts are poorly handled and if the agencies resist cooperation, counterterrorism efforts could be severely set back.

The main divisions of the Department of Homeland Security will include these agencies. Their current departments are shown in parentheses.

Border & Transportation Security

Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (Agriculture)

Customs Service (Treasury)

Federal Protective Services (General Services Administration)

Immigration & Naturalization Service (Justice)

Transportation Security Administration (Transportation)

Emergency Preparedness & Response

Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear response units (Health & Human Services)

Domestic Emergency Support Team (various)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (independent)

National Domestic Preparedness Office (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Nuclear incident response teams (Energy)

Office of Domestic Preparedness (Justice)

Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection

Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (Commerce)

Federal Computer Incident Response Center (GSA)

National Communications System (Defense)

National Infrastructure Protection Center (FBI)

National Infrastructure Simulation & Analysis Center (Energy)

Science & Technology

Civilian biodefense research programs (Health & Human Services)

Part of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Energy)

National Biological Warfare Defense Analysis Center (new)

Plum Island Animal Disease Center (Agriculture)

Secret Service (Treasury)

Coast Guard (Transportation)

SOURCE: The White House

THANKS TO this transition planning, Phil Anderson, senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies' Homeland Security Institute, expects that "the department will be up and functioning and look like a coherent whole quickly, probably in a year or less." Certainly, he says, the consolidation will result in "cleaner lines of communication, accountability, responsibility, and authority right away--within the science and technology functional area as well as across" the department. Still, he cautions, "to get it to a point where significant benefits and efficiencies are realized for more security will take a while."

Even when DHS is up and running, Cato Institute's Senior Defense Policy Analyst Charles V. Peña calls for lowered expectations. "The best the American public should expect is that we will be safer at the margins for homeland security unless we want to become a police and surveillance state."

But it will take "perhaps several years to make it a cohesive organization," predicts Randall J. Larsen, director of the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security. "In the short term, the reorganization will make us better prepared to respond to a crisis. In the long term, it will help us prevent attacks," he says.

For the science and technology community, Larsen hopes the reorganization will lead to "a more focused effort." Having an undersecretary for science and technology in DHS will help coordination. As he explains, "Today, there are similar research projects under way supported by different federal departments, and the people running these projects are not aware of the other efforts."

That lack of coordination goes beyond the federal government and presents "a daunting challenge for DHS's undersecretary for science and technology," says Lura J. Powell, director of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). As she explains, the undersecretary needs "to understand the broad range of capabilities in the federal, academic, and industry sectors and to figure out how to coordinate and effectively direct these efforts to both short-term and long-term research associated with homeland defense."

The off-the-shelf technologies being used today will have to be replaced by "new science and technology solutions that will provide a much more comprehensive and effective protection of our country and its resources," Powell says. But before that can occur, the new department and its science and technology components have to take shape.

Under the President's master plan, agencies begin transferring to the new department on March 1, 2003. The first to move are the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, parts of the Immigration & Naturalization Service, the new Transportation Security Administration, FEMA, and the Secret Service. All 22 agencies will be shifted to DHS by the end of September 2003.

Even before the transfers begin, the plan calls for the establishment of DHS's Office of the Secretary and the naming of top department officials--including the undersecretary for science and technology--by Jan. 24, 2003. Also by this date, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA)--modeled after the Pentagon's advanced projects agency, DARPA--its director, and the office for national laboratories within DHS's Directorate of Science & Technology will be in place.

The directorate of science and technology, which the undersecretary for science and technology heads, will be formed from six transferred programs, five from DOE and one from the Defense Department. Most of the programs transferred from DOE are nuclear related, but some involve chemical and biological national security programs as well as activities related to microbial pathogens. The Pentagon supplies the newly created National Bio-Weapons Defense Analysis Center.

8049LuraPowell 8049aftergood 8049Harman

OTHER SCIENTIFIC components will be drawn from civilian biodefense research programs of the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), and from the Agriculture Department's Plum Island Animal Disease Center. In the last major wave of transfers, Plum Island moves to DHS on June 1, 2003.

Also on June 1, the DHS secretary is to set up the Homeland Security Science & Technology Advisory Committee, the only advisory committee named in the law that is not exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Its meetings are the only ones that will be open to the public. In contrast, meetings of the private-sector advisory councils, composed of industry representatives, may, at the discretion of the DHS secretary, be closed.

That nearly all DHS's advisory committees are likely to be exempt from the open-meeting requirements of FACA "extends secrecy beyond classified information," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "The upshot is to exclude public oversight of this important new agency," he says.

It's also not a good way of doing science, says a government source familiar with the law. "Science conducted in the dark is not the best science you can get. The lack of peer oversight could make the science subject to a lot of mistakes," this source explains.

"All the changes in the law are in one direction: All favor unchecked secrecy," Aftergood says. In addition to the FACA exemption, he ticks off three other concerns.

First is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption for information about companies' critical infrastructures that they voluntarily submit to the government. "We understand and acknowledge the need to keep some infrastructure information confidential," Aftergood says, "but we're disappointed that this exemption is drawn so broadly." The exemption "transfers enormous authority to industry and gives it unusual control over what information is allowed to enter the public domain," he explains.

In addition to endowing industry with the ability to define the scope of confidential information, the exemption also "applies to information as opposed to records, preempts state and local government disclosure [sunshine] laws, and imposes significant penalties on anyone who does disclose information," Aftergood says. These penalties, he fears, are "likely to have a chilling effect on official interactions with the public that goes beyond confidential information."

The exemption also offers industry "a get out of jail free card," Aftergood contends. It gives companies immunity from liability even if the information supplied contains evidence of wrongdoing.

During Senate debate on the homeland security bill, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) tried but failed to get the FOIA exemption deleted. He says the exemption "guts FOIA at the expense of our national security and public health and safety." His bottom line: "More secrecy may undermine rather than foster security."

And finally, Aftergood cites the law's "exhortation 'to protect and safeguard sensitive but unclassified information,' yet it doesn't explain what that is." He fears that phrase "is an open-ended invitation to withhold even unclassified information."

The undersecretary for science and technology is likely to call on advisory committees often because an overarching responsibility is to advise the DHS secretary on research and development matters relevant to domestic security. The undersecretary is also charged with setting up and administering key R&D programs, including long-range activities for all components of the department. Everything the undersecretary does, in short, is to encourage technological advances that will enhance security and to support U.S. leadership in science and technology.

The undersecretary is also required to craft, in consultation with other pertinent agencies, a national policy and strategic plan that sets priorities and goals for developing countermeasures to terrorist threats. This tall order translates to developing devices and technologies that identify and counter chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other emerging threats.

Early versions of homeland security legislation lacked a provision for developing a national strategy for R&D, a failing pointed out by Gary L. Jones, director of GAO's Natural Resources & Environment Division, in her testimony this July before the House Energy & Commerce's oversight subcommittee.

The undersecretary is also directed to establish funding, R&D, testing, and procurement priorities for technologies and systems to detect, prevent, protect against, and respond to terrorist attacks, and to curb the importation of materials and weapons that can be used for terrorism.

What the undersecretary isn't charged with doing--and what Jones testified is key to effectiveness--is setting standards for the performance and interoperability of new technologies. Such standards would ensure users that the technologies would perform as advertised, she said.

Peer-reviewed, mission-relevant basic and applied research, development, demonstration, and testing activities will be conducted through intramural and extramural programs. All these activities fall under the undersecretary's purview, except for human health-related R&D, which remains with HHS.

Given the politics of the merger, Cato's Peña expects that a lot of money will be poured into the new department and those funds will trickle down to every aspect of homeland security, including science and technology. "I wouldn't be surprised to see a fairly sizable amount of money going to science and technology," he says. "The government is going to look to innovative science and technology solutions to secure the homeland."

ALTHOUGH NO ONE yet knows how research will be organized at DHS, "there will most certainly be increased funding for R&D in future budgets," PNNL Director Powell says. "At PNNL, we have already experienced a rapid growth in funding associated with homeland security, and I expect that trend to continue as the new DHS is 'stood up.' "

David J. Goldston, chief of staff on the House Science Committee, which is chaired by science booster Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), agrees. Over time, he says, DHS will become "another significant funder of research." As he points out, HSARPA is authorized to receive $500 million a year, making it the only entity in the law to be explicitly funded. So, he says, "there is potentially a significant increase for science and technology."

Just how much DHS funding will funnel down to basic research is an open question. If HSARPA follows its Pentagon model, DARPA, it will likely support very directed, very applied, research, some observers say. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who supported DHS's creation, is more optimistic, however.

DHS and its Science & Technology Directorate "will be a powerful force in conducting, commissioning, and procuring R&D," Harman says. "I think this bold organization will prove a boon to scientists and engineers doing homeland security work in universities, national labs, and the private sector."

Some of that research will be conducted by those DOE entities that move to the new department. These include the Office of Biological & Environmental Research, which recently received $20 million for its Genomes to Life program (the follow-on to the Human Genome Project), and the chemical and biological national security programs within the National Nuclear Security Administration (which invested in chemistry-on-a-chip-type projects). They also include the National Infrastructure Simulation & Analysis Center, jointly owned by Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, and Lawrence Livermore National Lab's advanced scientific computing research program.

Other domestic security research could be carried out at DOE's national laboratories through work agreements, joint sponsorships, or contracts. To facilitate this relationship, the law specifically sets up an Office for National Laboratories to work with the national labs.

Currently, it costs departments such as the Pentagon more money than it costs DOE to have research done at a national lab. Joint sponsorship, however, means that DHS will pay the same rate as DOE for research conducted at a national lab.

SOME BELIEVE this opens it up for the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to jointly sponsor research at national labs as well, making the labs "truly national security laboratories and not just nuclear laboratories," says a knowledgeable source who asks not to be identified.

Thurman J. (T. J.) Allard, Sandia's homeland security director, concurs. "Joint sponsorship will result in the right relationship--a true partnership--between DHS and the national labs. It is the preferred business model for Sandia and key national security departments such as DOD and parts of the intelligence community," he says.

In the past, the national labs could set aside some fraction--about 6%--of the money they received from DOE and other departments to work on projects the labs deemed important. This so-called laboratory-directed R&D (LDRD) money was the only way the national labs had for developing their seed corn, for keeping their own research going. The law, however, states that all money national labs receive from DHS must be used for DHS-relevant research.

Allard doesn't believe this will encroach on a national lab's discretionary use of LDRD funds. He says the White House's DHS Transition Planning Office understands that LDRD, which anticipates national needs, has already yielded "significant results that are directly applicable to homeland security." He points to Sandia's development of the MicroChemLab, a handheld gas chromatograph that can be used by first responders and military personnel to rapidly and accurately detect all known chemical warfare agents. Sandia invested about $16 million over five years to develop this portable GC.

PNNL's Powell says her lab is "developing advanced detection capabilities and advanced information analytics." These, she explains, "will allow us to effectively examine a broad range of apparently unrelated data inputs to identify and assess potential threats and mitigation strategies."

When DHS was first being considered by the Bush Administration, there was some talk about creating a centralized DHS lab and locating it at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. This would have been a coup for Livermore, given the potential amount of money involved.

But Allard says the concept DHS is now pursuing is a network of labs involving all DOE national security labs. "I think DHS desires to tap into the unique capabilities of each of the laboratories." It makes sense for DHS to do this because "this extensive resource base" would give the department "significant day-one capabilities," he explains.

Once the various R&D projects at the national labs or elsewhere morph into homeland security technologies, the undersecretary must make certain they are transferred to appropriate agencies at the federal, state, and local levels and to the private sector as well.

OTHER OBLIGATIONS of the undersecretary include overseeing the newly created Homeland Security Institute and several university-based research centers and working with the HHS secretary and the attorney general to decide which new biological agents and toxins need to be listed as "select agents." Once singled out, these agents must then meet several requirements, including being registered with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Many of the undersecretary's efforts may have to be put off for a while because the 107th Congress adjourned without providing the money--billions of dollars--needed to fund programs that may play pivotal roles in homeland security. Most of the government is now operating under a continuing resolution, which limits agency spending to the last fiscal year's levels.

This failure to allot money for better port or border security, improved communications systems, and better preparation for a chemical or biological attack may hamper rather than enhance domestic security, warned Rep. C. W. (Bill) Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. And Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who harangued against the bill creating DHS, said it was "irresponsible" to place "funding for homeland security on autopilot."

For months, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has been arguing that the White House has been niggardly in providing money for a number of priority security projects. He recently released a list of proposed spending for homeland security that the President has refused to fund, including a program to oversee trucks carrying hazardous materials.

Laying aside budget issues, this megamerger is not likely to help the U.S. wage a better war against terrorism, but it might over the long run prove to be the most efficient way of organizing for such a battle. Still, "the U.S. will never be safe in the absolute sense of the word," Cato's Peña cautions. "No matter how much money is spent, or how large the department is, or how many programs are put in place, terrorists will always find a way around the roadblocks," he explains. "We need to be perfect. Terrorists only need to be lucky."


Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

Related Stories
[C&EN, Nov. 25, 2002]

[C&EN, Nov. 18, 2002]

[C&EN, Sept. 9, 2002]

[C&EN, Aug. 9, 2002]

E-mail this article to a friend
Print this article
E-mail the editor

Home | Table of Contents | Today's Headlines | Business | Government & Policy | Science & Technology | C&EN Classifieds
About C&EN | How To Reach Us | How to Advertise | Editorial Calendar | Email Webmaster

Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society. All rights reserved.
• (202) 872-4600 • (800) 227-5558

CASChemPortChemCenterPubs Page